Introduction To Space Conquest Strategies For VGA PLANETS
by Ted Foster
If you haven't yet experienced this multi-player game of space conquest, it
might be time to look up a private BBS in your area and log in. VGA Planets
version 3.0 and up is a wonderful blend of Reach for the Stars, Master of Orion
Up to 11 people can play this game by making their moves on their computers and
then sending those moves to a host BBS. The host then compiles the moves and
returns the results to the player. Each player takes the role of a specific
alien race, and each race has its own special ship designs and talents which
must be fully exercised in order to win. A sound strategy for building up a
production base, defending your empire's perimeter, and going on the offensive
is a requirement for success. In this article, I'll discuss some general
strategy tips and follow up in part two with tips tailored to each race.
As in most space battle-fests, early expansion is the first big task of the
game. If all 11 races are being played, there is a good chance you will run
into opponents very quickly, so it's important to grab as much territory as
soon as possible. Special attention should be given to those worlds with native
populations, especially those with ordered governments of Monarchy and above,
as these will be your prime sources of money and future starbases.
The first item of business is to examine the messages concerning the game's
configuration carefully. This configuration will determine how effective your
race's special abilities will be (particularly for players of game versions
after 3.00). For instance, if you're playing the Crystalline Empire, the
messages will tell you how effective your special web mines will be and if it
is possible for them to be cleared. These messages will also tell you how often
meteors will occur and therefore how many new minerals will be available as the
game progresses. View Screenshot (120.1 KB JPEG)
Gaining control of the stars immediately around your starbase is critical...
By far the most important tech category at the beginning of the game is
Next on the agenda will be the allocation of your resources to your production
base. Initial funds will need to be divided between raising the technical level
of your starbase, building ships, and planetary spending for mines, factories
and defenses. Unless you are playing on the poorest settings, it is wise to
increase some of your tech levels at your home world right from the start. By
far the most important tech category at the beginning of the game is Engines,
as this will dictate how fast you can colonize the surrounding worlds. If
possible, go to Tech 10 engines early so that your ships will be able to reach
stars visible from your homeworld in three turns or less. These engines will
also help you guard your perimeter with fewer ships during the "Phony War"
phase of the game.
During the first 10 turns it is helpful to keep a running log of whatever
intelligence you can get on the surrounding areas of space. If your exploration
distance is great enough to cover 500 light years or more, try to note where
your neighboring races are and where their homeworlds might be. This will allow
you to make an educated guess as to which star clusters you will most likely
meet them in and what size ships you can expect. Use the F4 screen to search
for enemy ships, the Scores screen to keep track of planetary and ship totals,
and the messages detailing ships hitting mines and so on to monitor your foes.
If you are running on a host program version 3.11 or later, you may also be
able to figure out if a race is being played by a computer opponent. Tim
Wisseman's artificial intelligence routines for computer players are primitive
at best, but these computer players can help fill out an 11 player roster. The
computer players "cheat" to expand very quickly and to boost their tech levels,
but they are notoriously bad at combat. The computer players also will not take
advantage of their race's special abilities. Clues to watch for are a very
rapid rise in the number of captured planets, erratic ship movements, and
unexplained increases in ship mass during transit, and the repetition of
Screech For The Stars
As in most games of this type, play can be separated into three phases: Initial
Expansion, The Phony War (when you first contact other races), and Full Scale
Hostilities. In the expansion phase, gaining control of the stars immediately
around your starbase is critical. Your first ships should be freighters or
warships with a cargo capacity of 200 tons or more. These will allow you to
build worthwhile settlements in one trip to a neighboring star.
When establishing a new colony I prefer to send a minimum of 50 colonist clans,
20 supplies, and a 100 megacredits. On worlds with no native races, this allows
you to start a colony that can build enough mines and factories to become a
productive mining center. On temperate or tropic worlds, this population is
large enough to slowly expand if taxation is kept low. If you have too few
colonists, the colony's population will not grow, no matter what the climate.
View Screenshot (202.7KB JPEG)
Your first ships should be freighters or warships with a cargo capacity of 200
tons or more...
Be sure to build sufficient factories right away to provide supplies and money
for your colony. Without a source of supplies, no factories, mines or defense
posts can be built at all. I should mention a bit about taxation here. When
populations are under one million, the amount of tax money you will be able to
get from your colonists is negligible compared with the money that can be
raised by selling supplies. Supplies cost nothing other than the initial
factory cost, and factories use no resources to produce them.
Keep your tax rate on small, temperate colonies at 0%...
Because of this, I recommend you keep your tax rate on small, temperate
colonies at 0%, allowing their population to grow at its maximum rate. Income
for the colony will come from the factories, so maximize them first. As an
added bonus, since your taxation is nil, your citizens will be happy no matter
how many factories and mines you construct. Planets with native civilizations
should be nurtured as quickly as possible. In order to ensure that enough
colonists are present to tax each native, I like to construct a large freighter
early in my exploration. The freighter can carry 1200 clans per trip, which is
usually enough to tax every native on most worlds; this allows you to get
maximum money out of these worlds soon after you discover them, without having
to shuttle clans back and forth in smaller freighters.
As you explore your immediate surroundings you should single out the worlds on
which you plan to build starbases. Choose your best three colonies and devote
much of your resources into building them up quickly. If you are in a rich star
cluster, it is probably not a good idea to produce starbases at every populated
world, as this will make for slow growth and it will be many turns before the
bases are ready to become production centers. Focus and be fruitful.
The ideal location of a starbase is a colony with decent mineral resources...
The ideal location of a starbase is a colony with a large native population
(four million or more), government of Monarchy or better, decent mineral
resources, and natives that are Humanoid, Amphibian, Ghipsoidal or Siliconoid,
as each of these will give you a tech level of 10 in one category at your new
starbase. Large Bovinoid populations should also be used, since they are
monetary and mineral gold mines, and can be built up very quickly.
A flexible strategy should be followed as your empire begins to grow. It's
helpful to identify certain clusters of stars that you would like to possess
prior to hostilities. Look for rifts between areas of stars that might be
easier to defend and to launch an offensive from. Voids that takes two turns to
cross at warp 9 make great defensive barriers; you will be able to see any
ships trying to cross the barrier, giving you a turn in which to prepare for
Watch your opponents' ship movements to see if they are building up individual
planets into starbases; these will make nice offensive objectives later.
Usually players also fall into patterns of ship supply routes, and these should
also be noted for raiding later on.
Expansion is a good thing, but all good things must come to an end...at least
for a while. There will come a time when your expanding empire will bump into
one, two, or even three others. Usually this happens at a time when you have
many more colonies than you do ships, and many of those ships have few or no
weapons. Thus begins the period I call the "Phony War." At this point few
players are ready to mount an offensive and will have a devil of a time trying
to protect the colonies they already have. There are two basic strategies for
this phase, and both can have their problems.
The first strategy applies to those races like the Lizards and Bird Men.
Because of the smaller size of their battleships, these races can build capital
ships before most other races. If you have a battleship ready and good
intelligence on your opponent's homeworld when contact occurs, there is an
opportunity to deal an early deathblow. One or two of your ships is enough to
take out a starbase if the defending player hasn't maximized his defense. Since
he may have some fighters around, consider sending in a sacrificial ship with
light guns to clear the fighters for your capital ship's attack.
Should your preemptive strike be successful, you stand to reap substantial
benefits. A race without a starbase is like a head with its chicken cut off.
Even if some of the enemy ships escape, it may be many turns before your
opponent will be able to establish a new base (if at all), leaving you free to
claim his colonies. But be aware that the risks are great as well. If your
capital ships are lost and the enemy base remains intact, a major portion of
your race's resources will have been wasted and you will be on the defensive
when your opponent's battleships come on line.
The second strategy is a simple one°negotiate a time of peace. It may sound
wimpy and uninteresting, but the alternative is worse. If two races enter into
a protracted series of skirmishes, they will sap each other's strength until
both are ripe for the plucking by other races who have had the time to build up
their war machine.
The risk that you run with this strategy is that, while you are continuing to
build, so is your enemy. Keep a careful eye on him for both build-ups on your
borders and for opportunities for an offensive. If your opponent becomes
involved in a struggle with a third race, consider carefully which would be
more beneficial°sending aid to keep a large race from overpowering you both
at a time, or attacking him on your front to divide and conquer him with the
When you have built up a comfortable level of defense on your borders, and when
you have ships left to expand, it will be time to hone your combat skills. VGA
Planets does not lend itself well to small unit tactics. Ships in combat will
fight one-on-one until all vessels from one side are destroyed. There is no
retreat, no quarter, and no evasion. Once combat begins you no longer have
control, so you had best be prepared prior to sending your ships into the
unknown. Some general rules to remember are:
The biggest gun wins.
> Don't underestimate the power of higher technology. More often than not,
> higher tech weapons will swing the course of the battle to one side or
> another. I have seen a tiny Cyborg probe with two tech-10 Heavy Phasers
> take out a much larger Nocturne-class destroyer with tech-1 Beams. A
> Nova-class battleship with tech-10 Torpedoes can bring down the shields of
> an empty Colonial Battlestar with one broadside of torps and eliminate it
> with two more.
Higher tech weapons will swing the course of the battle to one side or
Intelligence is golden.
> Attacking in VGA Planets is always more difficult than defending.
> Therefore, gather as much intelligence (preferably with cloaked and unseen
> ships) on an enemy system as you can before launching your strike.
Don't leave home without them (weapons, that is).
> When sending warships into combat, make sure they have plenty of torpedoes
> or fighters on board. Some commanders will send out poorly-armed vessels
> hoping to save money, but this invites disaster. Even big-gunned ships like
> a Biocide-class carrier or an Annihilation-class battleship can be taken
> out by a smaller ship when fighting without fighter support and torpedoes.
> This is one game where you can send an endless stream of smaller warships
> against a large one without much chance of denting it. If the battleships
> are in play, use your smaller vessels to steal enemy freighters, lay mines,
> and so on, but don't rush headlong into a pointless fight against
> battleships or carriers unless absolutely necessary°that's what your
> battleships are for!
What's mine is mined, what's yours is mined.
> Use mines to your advantage and be aware of their limitations. They are a
> great defense against races that possess cloaking ships and can really mess
> up an opponent's trade routes. One good trick is to send in a vessel almost
> within reach of an enemy world, but rather than attack the world, stop the
> ship next to it, lay a large minefield, and retreat. You have just shut
> down small ship traffic to that world for some time. Ships being pursued by
> larger ships can use mines effectively as well. Be aware that mines will
> not do much damage to a large capital ship. A single mine hit will only
> cause 10% damage to a battleship or carrier, so don't depend on them to
> slow down an enemy invasion if large warships will be coming.
More To Come!
With these general tips as your guide, you should be able stake a small claim
in the VGA Planets galaxy. Holding onto that claim and acquiring more planetary
real estate is another matter, requiring cunning, luck, and the exploitation of
your race's inherent strengths.